18 Feb 2018

The Cloverfield Problem

Last week, I watched The Cloverfield Paradox on Netflix. Despite being the latest entry in one of the most interesting film series of the last ten years, I did not enjoy it at all. It's a film that is ripe with plot holes, irrelevant subplots, little character development, and - most importantly - a lazy justification for its existence as a Cloverfield film.

Set aboard a space station in orbit around the Earth, The Cloverfield Paradox tells the story of an international group of astronauts faced with catastrophic results after using a particle accelerator to solve the planet's energy crisis. The film also functions as an attempt to pull the series together by making connections to the first two movies and putting them into the same canon.

One of the problems with Paradox is that it wasn't a Cloverfield movie from the beginning. The project began under the title of God Particle and had no relation to the franchise, even during the writing and shooting process. It was towards the end of filming that J. J. Abrams wanted to connect the film to the series but could not find a suitable way to do it in post-production. Eventually, some scenes were rewritten and additional shooting was required.
This was also the case of 10 Cloverfield Lane which began production as The Cellar, except the connections weren't thrown into your face as much as they were in Paradox. There was a tacked on ending that didn't suit, but at least the preceding 90 minutes featured some of the most intense psychological horror ever produced on-screen along with a standout performance from John Goodman. The Cloverfield Paradox doesn't have anything to help that. Even without the narrative connections, the film isn't strong enough to carry itself. The main course of events in the movie plod along aimlessly and without any meaningful reason for them to be happening. The characters behave recklessly but their actions make little sense in the long run. I believe it would have been a lot stronger if they had just developed this into a standalone sci-fi comedy, as it seems that Chris O'Dowd was the only one who realised this.
There also exists the bigger picture problem that Cloverfield is starting to have. With films like Paradox being unrelated sci-fi scripts that add unrelated, vague nods to Cloverfield, the problem becomes evident that the series will become a mess of retcons and incoherent franchise additives. It was already obvious from watching the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane. The connections to the original film distinctly stand out and runs the overall quality into the ground.

Like The Twilight ZoneCloverfield has potential to be a series of thematically linked but otherwise unrelated sci-fi horror stories. But if they keep trying to attach links where they don't belong, we'll soon end up with a collection of cheap, low-grade sci-fi movies that won't appease anyone and ruin the brand as a whole. With J. J. Abrams at the helm, quality control doesn't seem like something that would be hard to achieve. But these films can't be  both genre anthology films as well as a consistent timeline sci-fi series. Either develop these movies as Cloverfield films from the beginning, or omit anything that tries to connect them. In the words of Ron Swanson, "Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."

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